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May 4, 2022

Your Essential Guide for The National Restaurant Association Show

by The Ottimate Editorial Team

New to the National Restaurant Association Show hosted by the National Restaurant Association? Relax, we’re veterans — we’ve got all the details you need to get the most out of your show experience. The show is massive and packed with hot trends, cool products, and killer food and drinks — and it can give you the tools and knowledge to make your restaurant a raving success.

It can also be utterly overwhelming. 

This guide covers everything you need to know to about the National Restaurant Association Show, including: 

  • Why Attend?
  • 5 Things To Do at the National Restaurant Association Show
  • 5 Things To Know Before You Go 
  • The Importance of Technology at the National Restaurant Association Show

Why Attend the National Restaurant Association Show?

If you’re in the restaurant business, the real question is, why WOULDN’T you attend? 

The National Restaurant Association Show is the largest annual trade show for foodservice pros in the Western Hemisphere. The show is the place to discover, learn, create, and gather inspiration to set your restaurant business up for wild success. 

The show allows you to soak up innovative knowledge and get your hands on tools to help your restaurant thrive in today’s market.  

It’s the must-attend event in the industry.

With representation from all 50 states and 110 countries, the National Restaurant Association Show is a unique experience for forward-thinking restaurateurs.

The show is packed with exhibitors, workshops, educational sessions, and more food and drinks than you can shake a stick at, which lets you: 

  • Discover hot new products
  • Test-drive new equipment
  • Create business connections with suppliers
  • Build peer-to-peer relationships
  • Attend educational sessions led by experts
  • Tap into the latest trends in the restaurant industry
Photo of expansive conference hall full of booths and people.
Photo courtesy of

5 Things To Do at the National Restaurant Association Show

Image text that says "Things to do at the Restaurant Show: Celebrity Demo Events, Education Sessions, Workshops, Exhibitors, And all the food and drink you can handle."

The show features over 1300 exhibitors. Between exploring booths, chatting with suppliers, and devouring delicious eats, you can sit in on presentations, live demos, workshops, and informational sessions. 

The National Restaurant Associaton Show brings in high-level thought leaders to present a fresh perspective on all things concerning the restaurant business.  

Here are the highlights of what you can expect at the show:

  • Signature Presentation — the most recent keynote speakers were New York restaurateur Danny Meyer and Slutty Vegan owner and CEO Pink Cole, moderated by National Restaurant Association’s Michelle Corsmo (2023), and founder of Seven Seven Six and co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, moderated by Starr Marcello, Deputy Dean of MBA Programs University of Chicago Booth School of Business (2022).
  • Celebrity demo events — Hone your culinary skills!
  • Workshops — Expert-led workshops providing high-value education on today’s hot topics. There are three workshops to choose from, and they require advanced registration. Check out the workshop page for more info.
  • Exhibitors — There are over 1300 exhibitors ready to talk with you. Demo their products, test their equipment, and sample the latest cuisine and cocktails! 
  • Educational sessions — Soak up all the knowledge you can. Topics include:

    Culinary Insights — Learn about the latest food & beverage trends.

    Operations Solutions — Find strategies to boost operational efficiency.

    The New Consumer — Learn how to connect & engage with today’s consumer.

    Technology Strategies — Discover how the power of technology can improve your business. Ottimate will be dishing on today’s automation tools and trends.

    Trends in Adult Beverages — Learn how to maximize your beverage program.Wellness — Discover how to prioritize health & wellness in the workplace.

    Workforce Recruitment & Development — Strategize on strengthening your workforce. 

Check out all the educational session info on The Restaurant Show website

5 Things To Know Before You Go to the National Restaurant Association Show

Info image that says "5 Things to Know before you go to the NRA show: prioritize, plan, be flexible, schedule time to grab your badge, take care of yourself."

The National Restaurant Association Show is an investment of your time and money. Knowing how to plan and what to expect will help you maximize your return on investment. 

1. Set Your Priorities

Before you get to Chicago, decide what’s most important to see and learn about at the show. Then, check the schedule and floor plan to help with your decisions. 

The size of the show is massive, and there’s no way one person can see everything (the organizers say it takes a full two days just to walk the floor).

Prioritizing ahead of time helps you stay focused when you get to the show. Remember, this show is Disneyland for restaurant operators. 

You don’t want to get distracted by shiny objects and miss the sessions or products that are most important to you.

2. Schedule Time To Grab Your Badge

The show doesn’t do advanced badge mailing anymore. Your badges must be picked up onsite, which means you may wait in line. Plan time for this to avoid being caught off guard.  

3. Plan, Plan, Plan

Check the show schedule and create your itinerary by choosing the demos, sessions, and exhibitors that are a “must-see” for you, then build the rest of your schedule around them.

Be sure to check the floor plan when creating your itinerary — the place is huge, and you need to make sure you can get where you need to go in the allotted time. 

If you’re hitting the show with a team, the key is to divide and conquer. Plan for different team members to attend different sessions and demos to glean the most info from your show experience. 

4. Look After Yourself

Four days and 43,000 square feet, countless educational sessions, demos, and constant activity can wear you down. Follow these five tips to take care of yourself, so you can enjoy the show: 

  1. Be sure to wear supportive, broken-in shoes and comfy clothes.
  2. Layered clothing is a must because crowds can make for a hot, stuffy environment, and you might need to shed a top layer from time to time.
  3. Take a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated because while there’s plenty to eat, finding water isn’t always easy.
  4. Schedule time for lunch and dinner. Sure, you’ll be surrounded by food but scheduling actual meal times is good to reconnect with your team and give yourself a break.
  5. Reflection time is essential. The amount of information you’ll absorb can be overwhelming — schedule time to read over your session notes and jot down your thoughts and ideas.

5. Be Flexible

While prioritizing and planning are essential, staying flexible will help you get the most out of your show experience. So keep your mapped plan close, but take time to savor the experience. 

Swing by the Ottimate booth to grab your morning coffee or an evening cocktail before strolling through exhibitors — be open to popping into sessions you stumble on. Sign up for post-show parties and events — most exhibitors advertise their post-show parties. These are great for networking. 

Remember, sometimes the most valuable networking happens on the fly, so be ready to adapt to take advantage of relationship building.

The Importance of Technology at the National Restaurant Association Show

Cog graphic with text: 95% of restaurateaurs agree on technology's role in improving business efficiency. Source: Toast

The use of technology continues to be a prevailing force in the restaurant industry. A report from Toast showed a whopping 95% of restaurateurs agree on technology’s role in improving business efficiency.

The Show’s Tech Pavilion is packed with technology solutions to improve efficiency and save you money.

Ottimate is an innovative, cutting-edge solution to streamline your back-office operations. Visit us at the next National Restaurant Association Show — we’d love to chat about how Ottimate can help revolutionize your AP. 

Now You Know…

The National Restaurant Association Show is THE show in the restaurant industry. And attending is a forward-thinking move toward the success of your restaurant business. 

It’s an event that’ll get your creativity flowing — especially if you know how to get the most out of your show experience. 

Network, learn, stay flexible and hydrated, and take great notes. 

Once you’re back home, schedule a post-show debrief with your team to share ideas. This lets those that didn’t attend benefit from your time and energy spent at the show.

Excited about The Restaurant Show? Us too. Want to learn more about Ottimate before the next show? Book a demo today!


The Ottimate Editorial Team

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